British Asparagus Season is Underway
The British Asparagus season is underway, considered a delicacy and a star of the vegetable world. It is labour intensive to grow and has a very short season, traditionally running from 24th April until 21st June. It is one vegetable that really does need to be celebrated and enjoyed when we can get hold of the locally grown asparagus. My recipe for you this month is for a Lincolnshire Sausage and Asparagus Flan which makes the most this wonderful ingredient and our counties beloved sausage.
One of my favourite producers is Select Lincolnshire member -Bomber County Asparagus. They have been growing it at Willow Farm in Dogdyke since 2010. They don’t force its growth, so the start of the season is at the mercy of the British weather. They harvest the spears every day to ensure that it reaches their customers as fresh as possible.
It is actually a member of the Lilly family and there are green, white and purple varieties. The spears can grow up to an astonishing ten centimetres in one day. Britain and America tend to grow Green Asparagus; in France they grow Purple with Spain and Holland growing the white variety. It is best cooked and eaten as soon after buying as possible, but if you have to store it then wrap it in damp kitchen paper, pop into a plastic bag and in to the salad drawer of your fridge. Alternatively put into a jug of water and store in the fridge.
Asparagus is known to have many health benefits; it is almost fat free, full of fibre, folic acid, calcium, iron and potassium. It is a rich source of vitamins A, C and K and even said to cure hangovers with its detoxifying properties. We won’t get on to the aphrodisiac qualities it is also supposed to possess!
We have a long history of eating the stuff. Asparagus was pictured as an offering in an Egyptian Frieze dating back to 3000BC. It is also mentioned in the ancient Roman Cookbook -De Re Coquinaria Book III by Apicius in the third century AD. The ancient Greek physician Galen wrote of its herbal and medicinal value in the second century AD. It is believed that the Romans introduced asparagus to Britain, who cultivated it and were said to love it so much that they deployed “asparagus fleets” to bring them the finest crop to eat. However after the Roman Empire ended, asparagus seems to have fallen from favour and there is very little mention of it in medieval cookbooks. It isn’t until the aphrodisiac properties are written about that it seems experience a resurgence of popularity in around the mid-16th century.
For lots more interesting facts and recipes please visit www.britishasparagus.com and www.bombercountyproduce.com
To make my Lincolnshire Sausage and Asparagus Flan does involve a few processes, but none of them are difficult and with the use of shop bought pastry, this speeds the job up! I fry the asparagus to soften it, rather than blanching as I feel this gives a better flavour and texture to the flan, rather than introducing extra water. You should get eight generous portions and it will keep for 2 days refrigerated. Try and use Select Lincolnshire producers if you can; it really will make a difference to the quality and enjoyment of your dish, whilst supporting local independent businesses too.
400g Lincolnshire Sausage meat from your local Select Lincolnshire Butcher
One bunch of local asparagus (with the woody ends snapped off)
Slug of Ownsworths Rapeseed Oil to fry sausage meat and asparagus
300ml Pot of Single Cream
3 Local Free Range Eggs, I used Fairburn’s
50g finely grated Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese
Freshly milled Salt and Pepper
466g/1lb pack of Curtis’ Rich Shortcrust Pastry
30cmx20cm Rectangular Flan Tin with Removable Base
Baking Parchment and Baking Beans
Make little balls of sausage meat, the size of small walnuts/big Maltesers and fry gently in rapeseed oil until nicely golden brown, about 8 minutes
Snap off the woody ends from asparagus, discard and wash the spears and pat dry
When the sausage meat balls are browned, remove from the pan, put on kitchen towel and cool
Gently fry the asparagus, in the same pan, with the same oil as you have just fried your sausage meat in. Season with a little salt and freshly milled black pepper.
When asparagus is a little bit softened and browned, (this should take about 5 min) put on a kitchen towel and cool
Preheat fan oven to 180c fan and put in a baking tray to heat up.
Roll out pastry and line flan tin, being careful to push the pastry into the sides, so you get the nice pattern around the edge. Don’t cut off the overhang of pastry. Prick the base all over the bottom with a fork and pop in the fridge to chill until your oven is up to temperature.
When oven at 180c, line your flan tin with baking paper and baking beans and bake blind for 15min on top of preheated tray.
Finely grate your cheese and mix it with your cream and 3 beaten eggs, season with salt and pepper. Be careful not to overdo the salt as you have already seasoned the asparagus and there is salt in the cheese and sausage meat too.
Turn the oven down to 170c fan
Remove the paper and beans from the flan case and place asparagus over the bottom and the sausage meat balls dotted around it.
Carefully pour in the eggs mixture.
Bake on top of the tray, in the centre of the oven for 35min. It should be a lovely golden brown when done and still have a bit of a wobble.
Allow to cool in the tin for ten minutes, on top of a cooling rack.
Trim off the overhang of pastry
When ready to turn out, put the flan tin on top of a can and gently pull the tin down.
Delicious served warm with salad and crusty bread.
Sadie Hirst and her Husband Russell have the multi award winning butchers shop RJ Hirst Family Butchers in Woodhall Spa. Sadie is a member of Select Lincolnshire and the British Society of Baking and is passionate about Lincolnshire produce and preserving our rich culinary heritage. She is a regular monthly columnist for The Target Food and Drink Column and Good Taste Magazine and often gives talks to local groups with “Off the Beeton Track”. For her previous recipes see www.rjhirstfamilybutchers.co.uk or follow her on Twitter Sadie Hirst@RJHirstbutchers